Wednesday May 19, 2011 7:08am CDT

46 degrees   Clear   Wind  Calm
On a sunny northern spring morning, our loon sits faithfully on the nest.
They had a quiet night last night.  
A lake of glass with no wind.
These are the days that there tend to be 'convection winds' during the day but with the setting of the sun, those winds die down and the lake becomes quiet as can be.
The loons deserve all the restful time they can get.  Once the chicks are born, it becomes a non-stop task of catching enough small fish to feed their hungry charges.
There are some people who have asked about the nesting platform itself so let me say a few words about that this morning.
Nesting platforms like this help loons because it gives them a place to nest that puts them out of reach of many land-based predators.  Many of their natural nesting areas along the shore have also disappeared as more and more lakes have become developed.
In a totally wild setting, loons will often seek out a small island to build their nests.  Many times they will use old muskrat houses and build their nest on the top of the house.
One of the worst predators of loon eggs on the nest are raccoons.
Skunks and mink are also known predators of loon eggs.  These animals are capable of scaring the loon off the nest and then making a meal of the eggs that are left unprotected.
On an island, or in this case a floating nesting platform, the nest is out of reach of most of these animals.  They do swim and still could possibly reach the nest, but usually will not put in the effort to reach the eggs.
With lakeshores becoming more and more built up, it also introduces dogs and cats and human traffic to the mix and they will scare the loons off the nest.  After being scared off enough times, either the eggs are damaged or the loons will just abandon the nest.
So a floating nesting platform like this removes many of the dangers for the loons and it resembles small islands that they normally would look for in the wild.
We have been very fortunate with the usage of this particular nest in that it has been used and eggs have been laid every year since it was first placed on the water.  If I remember right, one study showed that only 42% of nesting platforms ever actually get used.
The nesting platform itself is built of a square of 4 inch PVC pipe.  It is approximately 5 feet by 5 feet.  The PVC pipe joints must be very carefully sealed or the frame will simply fill with water and sink.  To give the nest additional support, the interior of that 5x5 foot frame is filled with about 4 to 6 inches of foam sheeting.
This whole assembly is then wrapped in plastic "snow fence" to hold everything in place.  I wrap the plastic snow fence around the platform in 'both directions' to give it the greatest structural integrity.
Then around this whole assembly, I wrap the entire platform both directions with landscape fabric.  I do this to try to eliminate all the small holes that a chick could fall through and become trapped.
Only after all of this has been done is the platform ready for the nesting material itself.
I usually rake up the weeds that have normally washed up on shore and place them on the platform to a depth of about 6 inches.  In addition to weeds washed up on shore, I cut dried cattails that are from the previous year's growth.
I try to use the cattails to build a 'structure' under the other nesting material that will help keep all the material from being washed away by waves or blown away by the wind.  Both of these thing are very real problems.
Use whatever is available to you but try to put yourself in the loons place and ask what they would normally use that is available in your area.
Loons will use whatever is available.  There are instances of loons just making a slight depression in the sand or gravel along a lakeshore if nothing else is available.  I have personally seen a loon nest in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area where a loon used a slight depression in a rock sticking out of the water in the middle of the lake.
So quite frankly, the amount and type of material that they have available to build this nest is truly a "Ritz Carlton" for them.
Once all of this material is on the nesting platform it is ready to put out in the water...and hope for the best.  This is the time that you really realize how little control you have over anything.  You can put everything out there.  But ultimately it is the decision of the loons whether they will use it or not.
And like I said, I have been very fortunate that the loons have used this particular nest every year since it was put out.
There are some older research papers that I have read that claim a loon must have access to water that is at least 5 feet deep right by the nest.  I have not found that to be the case at all.  The depth of the water by this nest is normally 2 to 3 feet deep and the loons seem to find that completely acceptable.  When you realize that they normally nest on the edge of the shore, I think they would tolerate water depth even less that that.
But it is important as they slip off the nest that the water is deep enough for them to dive and swim away unnoticed if danger threatens.
You can anchor the nest with any type of anchor that is heavy enough to hold the nest in place during high winds.  If you have an area that is out of the wind, that is even better.  I use two anchors on this nest.  One is a 'mobile home' anchor that is screwed into the bottom of the lake and stays in place from year to year.  The second anchor is simply a cement block.
The two anchors keep the nest from twisting around and around in the wind.  For this particular nest that is especially important with the tv and audio cables that come off the nest to bring you this picture and sound.
In addition to the nesting material, for the last number of years I have started placing plants on the nest to help hold the materials in place and to keep them from being washed away.  The two types of plants that have been the most successful for me are clumps of iris and daylilies.  They have definitely helped to keep the waves from washing the nest away.  A side benefit is that you may actually have some flowers bloom on the nest.
This year some of you have asked what the yellow flowers are that are already blooming.  As best that I can tell, it looks like dandelions that have grown naturally from seeds that were apparently in the nesting material that I put on the nest.
Once you have done all of that work, you can only wait and hope that the loons use the nesting platform. 
The loons will rearrange whatever material you provide for them and make a nest that fits them exactly.  One year I thought I would 'control' where they built the nest on the platform so that it was perfectly centered for the camera.  So I used the nest from the year before and added more material around it.  I felt so smug about how smart I was!
Well, the loons had different ideas.  They promptly tore the previous years nest apart and built the new nest exactly where and how they wanted it.
Be sure to check with your state department of natural resources before you build and place a loon nest to see if they have any advice or any regulations that you need to follow.
Your goal should not be to have "tame" or "pet" loons.  Your goal should be to help loons be more successful in nesting and raising young loon chicks.
The average survival rate for loon chicks is only 0.62 chicks per nest per year.  Not a very high success rate.  So even a slight increase in that success rate means that loons will be around for years to come.  Once again I have been humbled at the high success rate that we have had with this particular nest.
[If you want to see the old tv program from several years ago about building the nest, you should be able to find it here on the MNBound TV tab.  They repeated the program on program #593.  There have been many changes (hopefully improvements) in how I do the nest since that program was first broadcast a number of years ago, but it will give you the basics of the nesting platform.]
Questions or Comments?
I will try to read all emails but I may not be able to respond personally because of the volume of emails.